#28ChineseMemories Day 28: The Bridge Between Worlds

Throughout this month of blog posts, I have talked about aspects of my childhood and my present life, celebrating and maintaining my Chinese heritage. I am grateful to be able to celebrate who I am: ethnically Chinese yet culturally both Chinese and American.

Yet, it hasn’t been an easy road to travel to come to this appreciation, even to this day. Before I entered into grade school, I thought I had a normal childhood and a normal family; but once I entered into grade school and was exposed to the other children in my hometown, I realized I was very different from them, yet the same as well.

It has been a struggle to really embrace my identity as Chinese-American: as my Ignite Denver talk above shows, I have had many moments of just not fitting in with any group I encounter. My mostly Caucasian classmates treated me as the different one; when I met other Asians, they had a hard time comprehending that yes, even though I looked similar to them, I was American.

And from either side, I have encountered that discrimination, that insidious racism in many ways: the judgmental looks I get when I am out with my wonderful partner, Ryan; the condescending tone from Caucasian ladies who’ve adopted daughters from China and assume they themselves know more about the Chinese culture than I do; and just, the bewildered looks I receive when I speak “perfect English”.

I am me, Helene: Chinese and American.
I am me, Helene: Chinese and American.

I don’t regret my identity, but I hope that in my lifetime, the feelings I have had over “explaining” who I am will diminish; that it won’t be strange for my children to celebrate multiple cultures and appreciate them all; that honoring one’s ancestral heritage will become the norm instead of the exception.

We may be a world of melting pots, but there still needs to be celebration and appreciation of our distinct cultures.

#28ChineseMemories Day 27: The Color Red in Chinese Culture

Image courtesy of adamr from freedigitalphotos.net
Image courtesy of adamr from freedigitalphotos.net

I grew up knowing that red is a lucky color: after all, when Chinese New Year rolls around, our pockets are red (the pockets that contain money). Red represents happiness and good luck: I have seen my relatives’ wedding photos and see the women wearing red (or pink) dresses.

As I had mentioned in yesterday’s blog post, white is traditionally a color used for mourning in Chinese culture, so I wondered what would happen when it came time for us kids to get married. My oldest sister had a small wedding and wore a red dress at her wedding: she paid total homage to our cultural roots. At my older brother’s wedding, my sister-in-law wore a white dress with a red sash tied around her waist.

I don’t know what I’ll be doing when it comes time for my wedding, but I know I will incorporate red somehow.

#28ChineseMemories Day 26: The Color White in Chinese Culture

Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap of freedigitalphotos.net
Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap of freedigitalphotos.net

Before the age of ten, I always wondered why my mom and my grandmother did not like me wearing white scrunchies or white barrettes in my hair. I didn’t know about the significance of the color until my great-grandmother passed away in China: my grandparents went back to China for her funeral, and in the few photos I saw from China, I saw how they put white towels on their heads during the mourning period. Then, I understood why it was bad for me to have white hairpieces.

When my grandmother passed away in August of 1999, our family did a hybrid of mourning colors for the mourning period: we wore white tops, white threads wrapped around bobby pins, and black pants. As we all know, traditionally the color black is for mourning in the U.S., but we wanted to honor our family’s two heritages by doing white and black.

We mourned up until the cemetery, where we each wiped our eyes with a leaf (I forget which plant it was from), and turned away when my grandmother’s coffin was being lowered to the ground. Then, we women took the white barrettes out of our hair and put in red barrettes. We had a post-funeral gathering celebrating my grandmother’s life and were not allowed to cry about her passing at the party, despite many of us still feeling sad about her passing.

Now you may wonder, What about attending weddings here in the U.S.? Brides always wear white…? I’ll talk about that in tomorrow’s post.

#28ChineseMemories Day 25: Moon Cakes & Autumn Moon Festival

A full moon symbolizes unity and togetherness. Image courtesy of Exsodus from freedigitalphotos.net
A full moon symbolizes unity and togetherness. Image courtesy of Exsodus from freedigitalphotos.net

I look forward to the Autumn Moon Festival around the end of August/beginning of September since that is when we eat moon cakes. Moon cakes are almost always round due to the circle being a symbol of unity and wholeness. The Autumn Moon Festival celebrates family togetherness and thanksgiving; hence, the importance of the shape of the moon cakes. I have eaten moon cakes that are square-shaped though; generally we purchase our moon cakes from a Chinese/Asian supermarket. We ALWAYS share pieces of the moon cake with our loved ones; the only time I remember having a moon cake to myself was when I bought mini moon cakes.

Moon cakes come in different flavors: I generally like the lotus seed paste but the red bean paste is also good. There is always a full cooked egg yolk inside the moon cake to symbolize the full moon (and to emphasize, again, the symbol of unity and wholeness). I have let my non-Asian friends try moon cakes before, and they say that the taste is very different from what they had expected. It is a bit of an acquired taste!

I found a recipe online once to try to make moon cakes from scratch, but alas, I have yet to attempt the recipe. Hopefully soon!

This is how it is with me & Chinese holidays: all about the food! My parents and relatives did not explain much about the importance of these holidays to me when I was a kid, so the only way I knew about the holidays was through the food we ate.

#28ChineseMemories Day 24: My Dad’s Love for Kung Fu

My dad when he got his U.S. citizenship in the 80s.
My dad when he got his U.S. citizenship in the 80s.

My dad started learning kung fu when he was a kid in China. He fell in love with the martial art and took his training very seriously. When my oldest brother was born, my dad gave him a name that meant “the best in kung fu” since he also wanted my brother to excel in kung fu.

Well, my brother did not end up pursuing kung fu; he pursued economics and finance instead yet excelled greatly at those strengths of his. None of us five kids took after our dad in his love for kung fu: we all dabbled in learning a few moves from our dad when we were growing up, but sadly none of us are well versed in our dad’s style of kung fu.

(Video of my dad performing kung fu and breaking cinder blocks from 2008)

I attempted to learn kung fu from my dad when I was staying in Virginia for a few months in 2011 (before moving out to Denver). However, I injured myself and my mom scolded my dad for training me too hard, so after that, my dad taught me a tai chi sequence, which was much gentler for me.

Throughout my childhood, I remember my dad teaching his kung fu students in the back parking lot of our family restaurant after business hours. My dad worked our family restaurant as a means of necessity and providing for the family; his passion was truly with kung fu though, teaching these late-night classes to eager students who afterwards were treated to a late night snack cooked by my dad. As far as I know, my dad never took payment for these classes; he taught because he wanted to teach his passion to others. He didn’t do it for the money.

(Video above is of my dad doing kung fu demonstrations with his “grand students” and his student)

Even now, in his retirement, my dad volunteers at one of his student’s martial arts studios once a week, teaching his “grand students” his style of kung fu. Every year around Chinese New Year, my dad participates in a kung fu show in Virginia. For my dad, kung fu will always stay with him, no matter his age.

Today, my dad turned 65 years old and he’s still vibrant and healthy. Happy birthday to my dad; may his love for kung fu shine on!